All posts by rldose12

My name is Rebecca Doser and I am a sophomore at St. Lawrence University. I am an English Creative Writing major and am involved in various extracurricular activities such as the Women's Volleyball Team, The Hill News, The St. Lawrence Review, the Thelmathesian Society, and the Student Athletic Advisory Committee. I also love Nicholas Sparks and reading in my free time!

Wag the Dog & Spin Strategies in Washington, D.C.

Wag the Dog (1997)
Director: Barry Levinson
Starring:
Dustin Hoffman
Robert De Niro
Anne Heche
Denis Leary
William H. Macy

By Yoshifumi Kobayashi and Rebecca Doser

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Fig. 1: Wag the Dog was released in 1997 and reveals some core PR practices that politicians and public officials use in order to manipulate U.S. public opinion.

Wag the Dog (Fig. 1) is a comedy that is loosely based off of Larry Beinhart‘s novel American Hero. The storyline follows a Washington, D.C. spin doctor played by Robert De Niro who distracts the electorate from a sex scandal by hiring a Hollywood film producer to construct a fake war with Albania. This comedy was released prior to the Lewinsky scandal as well as the bombing of the Alshifa pharmaceutical factory in Sudan by the Clinton Administration.

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Fig.2: Conrad Brean is a top-notch spin doctor who distracts the electorate from a presidential sex scandal.

The term spin refers to outright lying or obfuscation in public relations (Baran, 2015, p. 277). It is a form of propaganda that is achieved  through providing a biased interpretation of an event or campaigning to persuade public opinion in favor of a public figure. In the case of this film, spin was used as a form of propaganda to persuade the majority that there was a war in Albania, in order to take their focus off of the President’s so called “advancement” on a Firefly Girl only two weeks before Election Day. Conrad Brean (Fig.2) is a spin doctor who is wrapped into a scheme to take the public’s attention away from the sex scandal that could ensue. Spin doctors have more access to new technologies than many, thus, in public relations, they are deceptive and manipulative in skewing the truth in order to create a biased interpretation of events. Conrad Brean says multiple times, “I’m working on it.” He is characterized by his assistant, Winifred Ames as “Mr. Fix-it” At the very beginning of the movie the audience views him and his colleagues in the basement of the White House as he brainstorms a strategy involving a B3-bombing and war in Albania. He is characterized as a strategic and clever spin doctor who is always thinking of the potential consequences of his actions before he goes through with them.

The movie takes place in the heart of Washington, D.C. in which Washington’s K Street is known as the hub for think tanks, lobbyists and advocacy groups. The lobbying industry is very prevalent in this area and thus this is where a lot of spin goes on. Lobbying is directly interacting to influence elected officials or government regulators and agents as a central activity, further making it the core of manipulative spin doctors and lobbyists alike.

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Fig. 3: The Kennedy-Nixon debates ushered a new era of taking advantage of media exposure to build successful political campaigns.

At the beginning of the movie, Conrad Brean has to convince Hollywood producer Stanley Motss to join his PR campaign. He argues that politics is a show business. Brean says, “War is business that’s why we’re here” (15:30). He uses examples of past popular war slogans such as 54-40 or Fight and Tippecanoe and Tyler Too to portray how those campaign slogans resonate more with people than the actual war details do. He says, “We remember the slogans and we can’t even remember the fucking wars…you know why? That’s show business” (15:50). He continues with his argument saying,“You’ll remember the picture 50 years from now and you’ll have forgotten the war” (16:07). This argument is  related to the first televised Kennedy-Nixon electoral debate. In 1960, the Kennedy-Nixon debates (Fig.3) were not only the first televised presidential debates in American history but they also ushered a new era of creating a public image and taking advantage of media exposure to build a successful political campaign. Nixon took a hit in August when a reporter asked Eisenhower to name some of his vice president’s contributions, but after a long press conference he replied, “If you give a week, I might think of one. I don’t remember.” This was later used in a commercial that ended with the statement, “President Eisenhower could not remember, but the voters will remember.” People remember slogans and political symbols more than they remember the details behind an event, statement or speech.

Later on, when the President claims that the speech written for him is too “corny,” Motss is determined to give it himself in the oval office in front of 30 secretaries. Many of the secretaries leave Motss’ speech in tears and are very moved by what he said. Motss – leaving the Oval Office – says to Brean: “You know, Connie, I felt very much at home in there. Simple quirk of fate, I could have gone this way,” and then he adds, “It’s all a change of wardrobe” (58:16). Connie says a bit later in response, “It’s like Plato once said…It doesn’t matter how the fuck you get there, as long as you get there” (58:45). This scenario points to the multitude of strategies there are to deceive individuals and hope the people and media will concentrate on anything that is presented to them in the news.

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Fig. 4: An Albanian girl is the star of this staged news brief.

There are many scenes throughout the movie that represent multiple strategies used by spin doctors. One strategy used throughout the movie is a video news releases (VNR), which is a video segment that looks like a news report but is instead created by a PR firm, advertising agency or government agency. A VNR is portrayed in the scene in which the Albanian girl (Fig. 4) is portrayed running from terrorist uprisings in her village (36:00). VNRs are used frequently by government agencies in favor of presenting manipulated accounts as actual news reports (Baran, 2015, p.280). This is a clear attempt of the producer to relay the idea that seeing is believing. A theme of the movie that opens up here is one of constant fear as to whether or not the individuals used in the screenplay are illegal immigrants. Employing illegal immigrants can be a far bigger crime than even just setting the scene for a war that never existed and this theme comes up later in the movie

When the CIA learns of this fake creation of a war, they announce that the war has ended and in turn, Motss decides to create another fake story: one of a hero who was left behind. The soldier’s name is William Schumann who left behind an old shoe. This act in itself becomes a point of support and a political symbol in the movie as the producers begin to throw old shoes from trees in support of Schumann’s cause and the attempt to bring him home. When a photograph of Schumann is released, the producers relay the idea that there is a morse code embedded in his shirt that spells out “Courage Mom.” America is easily captivated by this story of bringing Schumann home immediately. This is an example of astroturfing, the practice of masking sponsors of a message or ogranization to make it appear as though it originates from and is supported by a grassroots organization. The news outlets of television and newspaper alike are continuously building off of each other and publishing news that is identical to simply what they are seeing all over the place.

Multiple media events or pseudo-events such as the war in Albania, the footage of the Albanian girl and the grassroots demonstrations of patriotism in bringing Schumann home as an American hero all lead to Motss’ ultimate frustration in the end. The media credits the president’s win to the campaign slogan of “Don’t change horses in mid-stream” rather than crediting Motss for his hard work and directing. As Conrad mentioned at the beginning to Motss, one will always remember the slogan but not the war.

Baran, Stanley J. “Chapter 11.” Public Relations. Boston: McGraw Hill, 2015. Print

The Social Network & Social Determinism

The Social Network (2010)
Director:
David Fincher
Starring:
Jesse Eisenberg
Andrew Garfield
Justin Timberlake
Armie Hammer
Max Minghella

By Yoshifumi Kobayashi and Rebecca Doser

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Fig. 1: The Social Network was released in the United Stated by Columbia Pictures on October 1, 2010.

The Social Network (Fig. 1), is the true story about the founding of Facebook and the entire lawsuit process surrounding its creation. Jesse Eisenberg plays Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.  Andrew Garfield plays Eduardo Saverin and Justin Timberlake plays Sean Parker, the two other individuals involved in the creation of the website.

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Fig. 2: Sean Parker suggested to Zuckerberg that he drop the “the” from “thefacebook” during their first time meeting.

The creation of Facebook was inspired by multiple old-fashioned directories containing students’ photos, names, private information and more issued by U.S. universities way before Mark Zuckerberg even created his website. Nearly 17 percent of all online minutes across all platforms is devoted to social networking sites and it was specifically Facebook’s desire to make itself even more attractive to mobile users that pushed the company in 2012 to buy Instagram for $1 billion (Baran, 2015. p. 242). It all started back with Classmates.com, which launched in 1995 and was followed by sites such as Friendster in 2002, LinkedIn and MySpace in 2003. (Baran, 2015. p. 242). In late 2003, Zuckerberg created a Harvard campus website called Facemash by hacking into his university’s database to accumulate photos of females students and placing them on the website so that male students could rate each girl’s attractiveness. When the Winklevoss twins and Divya Narendra invite Zuckerberg to work on the Harvard Connection, an idea comes to Zuckerberg’s mind for an online social networking website that would be exclusive to Ivy League students called Thefacebook. While the Winklevoss brothers and Narendra are livid over their belief that Zuckerberg stole the idea from their Harvard Connection website, the Harvard President, Larry Summers, sees no issue due to the fact that in all reality, Thefacebook could indeed be argued as an accumulation of multiple social media creations over time. It isn’t until Zuckerberg connects with the napster co-founder, Sean Parker, that the “the” from Thefacebook is dropped and it becomes simply Facebook (Fig. 2).

The new medium of Facebook and specifically the mentality surrounding its creation is an idea of social determinism, according to Zuckerberg. He says, “This is what drives life in college-are you having sex or aren’t you… this is why people take certain classes, sit where they sit, do what they do….” For Zuckerberg, Facebook is a technological solution thats economic drive and cultural change is driven by society and people as opposed to the ideas referred to as technological determinism in which some theorists believe it is machines and their development that drives economic and cultural change (Baran, 2015, p. 16).  Zuckerberg has a conversation with his friend Justin in class who is questioning whether a girl at Harvard is single or in a relationship. This brings Zuckerberg to realize that students want to know each other’s relationship status and this is a key factor in driving social determinism. This realization pushes him to run home to add a “relationship status” element to Facebook before launching it. This clearly portrays how it is social determinism that drives the cultural and social changes in the new medium of Facebook as opposed to the actual technological creation itself. The fact that students want to know every detail about each other is an element of social desire and human interaction that drives the success or failure of a socially-driven technological innovation such as Facebook.

As stated before, Facebook was not simply just Zuckerberg’s idea alone. Other technological inventions have improved  the system of Facebook and social interaction across previously created means of communication still continue to influence Facebook’s development over time. Take for example, the fact that HarvardConnection, which perhaps spurred the idea of Facebook, may not have even been a thought if there was no such thing as e-mail. Email allowed internet users to “communicate with anyone else online” (Baran, 2015, p.238) and since users of HarvardConnection needed to have Harvard University’s .edu email account to access it, this medium would not have even been possible if other technological creations were not involved. We cannot ignore the appearance of LANs and WANs,which made it possible to connect more than one computer within a certain area (LANs) or even in separated locations (WANs) (Bara, 2015, p.238) which would significantly help HarvardConnection spread. As we discussed in class this past week, technological evolutions are the continuous movement of technological revolutions. Also, when a new technology is introduced, there are always multiple people who invented the technology behind the innovation. People invent various means of technology and people use or do not use these technologies based on accessibility and/or popularity. Furthermore, “the decisions are ours” (Baran, 2015, p.259) in determining what we engage in and how we engage in it across social media outlets. Thus, the success or failure of a technological innovation stems from social determinism, which opposes the ideas of Marshall McLuhan, Joseph C. R. Licklider, and William Gibson who claim how technology itself changes our society and culture.

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Fig. 3: College students thrive on engaging with one another through social media as it drives many of their decisions in the real world.

In the movie, Sean Parker stated that, “we lived on farms and then we lived in cities and now we’re gonna live on the internet.” In this statement, Parker means that he views a future surrounded by technological transformations and digitization is just another step in the direction of a new way of living. If so, is it going to be a better world? McLuhan introduced the idea called the global village that said, “the new communication technologies will permit people to become increasingly involved in one another’s lives” (Baran, 2015, p.245). He assumed that people would grow closer on the internet because it connects people, allowing them to become “one family” and exchanging thoughts easily as if they all lived under one rooftop. Baran mentions that online feedback on the internet “is more similar to feedback in interpersonal communication than to feedback in mass communication” (Baran, 2015, p. 245). We communicate with each other through the internet, the largest mass communicative technology out there. Zuckerberg comments in the movie that, “college kids are online because their friends are online” (Fig. 3). Facebook is an extremely popular tool of communication among friends and family members. In fact, Facebook ranked third in 2012 for the number of monthly visitors on the Internet in the U.S. according to Quantcast 2012 (Baran, 2015, p.241). People put plenty of personal information on Facebook that they believe is kept private and only to be seen by “friends.” However, people complain about the leaking of their personal information when it reaches a third party whom they do not know. Today, the border separating the social media world from “real” life is blurred and almost one in the same due to individuals’ leniency in placing personal details of their life on the social network.

The most valuable commodity that Facebook generates is it’s user-generated content. It is the people that make the site more or less valuable. It is truly a social networking site that thrives off of social engagement. Similar to other online mediums, Facebook makes possible easy dataveillance-the massive collection and distillation of consumer data (Baran, 2015, p. 253). Through Facebook, one can distribute and share personal, private information among organizations other than simply the one for whom it was originally intended (Baran, 2015, p. 253). Employers can access this information and more or less, anyone who wants to know something about a person can simply buy into the necessary means to get hold of this information without even having a person’s permission or knowledge of the act itself. Eduardo Severin, Zuckerberg’s business partner and roommate said, “It was a great idea. There was nothing to hack, people were going to provide their own pictures, their own information…” Severin believed that anyone could put his or her information out there and it was a conscious decision to do so.  It is not until issues of online privacy come into play that the protection of personal information becomes a larger issue. According to the international human rights group Privacy International’s Global Privacy Index, the United States ranks in the lowest category of “endemic surveillance societies” (Baran, 2015 p. 253). Online privacy will continue to be an issue as people increasing leak their personal information onto a website or social media outlet and it spreads to unintended people or areas.

Baran, Stanley J. “Chapter 10.” Mass Communication, Culture and Media Literacy. Boston: McGraw Hill, 2015. Print

Media & Democracy in Guilty by Suspicion

Guilty by Suspicion (1991)
Director:
Irwin Winkler
Starring:
Robert De Niro
Annette Bening
George Wendt
Sam Wanamaker
Martin Scorsese

By Yoshifumi Kobayashi and Rebecca Doser

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Fig. 1: Guilty by Suspicion features actor Robert De Niro as David Merrill.

Guilty by Suspicion (Fig. 1) is an American film based on the Hollywood blacklist in association with McCarthysim, the Red Scare and the House Un-American Activities Committee. When David Merrill, played by Robert De Niro, returns home after being abroad, he finds that he is continuously being pushed to implicate his own colleagues/ best friends as Communist agents. In order to be allowed to work in films again he must decide whether he wants to turn in his friends or stay loyal to them and his family.

the second red scare
Fig.2: A poster recommending people to turn in others associated with the Communist party during  the McCarthy era.

The story recounts when the Second Red Scare intimidated people  in the United States in 1947 right after the Cold War broke out.  The U.S. was afraid of communism coming from their opponent, the  Soviet Union, and decided to ban it. As a result, the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) led the movement now called the Red Scare. ‘Red’ refers to communists and their sympathizers. Additionally, because Republican senator from Wisconsin Joseph McCarthy became the symbol of the Red Scare, the time was well known as the McCarthy era and we regard the anticommunism movement as McCarthyism (Baran, 2015, p.133). The HUAC scared “Reds” by demanding them to name acquaintances who were potentially communists. The committee felt threatened by those associated with the communist party and their potential influence on the majority through mass communication in regards to film specifically (Fig.2).

This affected the Hollywood industry significantly because the HUAC feared that “communist, socialist, and leftist propaganda was being secretly inserted into entertainment films by ‘Reds'” (Baran, 2015, p.133).  Consequently, the HUAC created the Hollywood Blacklist composed of the people working in Hollywood whom  they removed in order to prevent spreading communism through film. About 325 people involved in the film industry were expelled from their Hollywood job, including Charlie ChaplinOrson Welles and many others.  As a result of the threat produced by the blacklist, “the film industry abandoned those who were even mildly critical of the ‘Red Scare'” and “movies became increasingly tame for fear of being too controversial” (Baran, 2015, p.133). But why? Why did film industry need to cut its own throat by excluding its top directors and producers and therefore reducing its business?

The answer lies in the fact that the film industry’s success is highly dependent on audience.  People become engaged by buying film tickets, similar to buying books, which means “the audience is in fact the true consumer” (Baran, 2015, p.134). This points to the book burning and censorship seen at the very beginning of the movie when Larry burns his books after the investigation. He is not only told that his involvement in films is a threat because of his previous communist affiliation, but he further sees almost any medium involving personal opinion and audience engagement as a threat to what the HUAC will allow. Movies involve personal interaction just as much as books do. Film is thus a “culturally special medium” (Baran, 2015, p.134). Hollywood still needed to sell its movies to an audience. When the HUAC intimidated people so much that they avoided almost anything related to communism; Hollywood was forced to continue following the social structure shaped by McCarthyism. After all, McCarthyism itself was in control of the film industry as if it had regal authority to do so, similar to Edison who was in control of making movies by setting rules by himself in 1900 (Baran, 2015, p.129).

Media and democracy is also  the largest concept revolving the plot of the movie. Larry Nolan’s interrogation by the HUAC at the very beginning of the movie (1:30) is a clear indication of the chain of events that proceed throughout the movie. Many people, including Merrill and his best friend Bunny, are questioned and pushed throughout the movie to reveal their friends who were formerly associated with the communist party.  Regulation, a term discussed in class, is the study of this social phenomenon in which someone or a group of people regulates actions that are legislated at a federal government level.  In the case of this movie, usually a set of rules approved at any level of the government and imposed on the media industry, limit the way the industry performs.

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Fig. 3: The House Un-American Activities Committee was largely involved in the associated activities stemming from McCarthyism.

The first scene in which this level of regulation is evident is one involving Graff, an HUAC lawyer Ray Karlin and Merrill. It is during this meeting that Merrill clearly sees what he is up against in terms of the HUAC’s attempt to censor language in films, themes in films and individuals working on films that are associated in any way to communism. For example, Sam Wanamaker, an American film director in the movie, was put on the hollywood blacklist in the early 1950s as a result of this regulation of films. Darryl Zannuck was not just going to let his favorite film directors be destroyed, however, he knew that the HUAC (Fig. 3) was compiling a list of people to be called by HUAC as communists to keep out of the film industry. Intertwined with McCarthyism was the regulation that the HUAC perpetuated of intense levels of regulation and censorship. This is an element that we first viewed in the banning of books in Fahrenheit 451 and see yet again at the beginning of this movie when Larry Nolan burns books as previously mentioned. The  influence of McCarthyism and the Red Scare acted as “cultural repositories and agents of social change” that pushed films to be targeted for censorship, similar to books in Fahrenheit 451 (Baran, 2015, p. 53).

As evident through class discussion revolving the role of the U.S. national media as a “Defender of Democracy” it is easy to analyze the media prior to the Iraq War and it’s effect on how news broadcasters alike all complied with the media’s policies, similar to this movie. In Guilty by Suspicion it is easy to see how the three components of the movie industry-production, distribution, and exhibition (Baran, 2015, p. 138)  are all significant in the media environment and how the regulation of film is skewing even the production of movies because of filmmakers such as Merrill and their association with communism. Exhibition became a huge concern for authorities during McCarthyism and still remains a large concern today. The HUAC attempted to prevent communist-associated directors and writers in relaying their political mentalities through their screenwriting and productions that would reach millions. Similarly in today’s world, a film will simply not be produced or sell if it does not follow the political, social and cultural mentalities of the masses.

Baran, Stanley J. “Chapter 6.” Film. Boston: McGraw Hill, 2015. Print

The Dilemma Between Telling the Truth & Making Money

shattedred glass
Fig.1: Shattered Glass (2003)

Shattered Glass (2003)
Director: Billy Ray
Starring:
Hayden Christensen
Peter Sarsgaard
Chloë Sevigny
Hank Azaria
Melanie Lynskey
Steve Zahn

By Yoshifumi Kobayashi and Rebecca Doser

Shattered Glass (Fig. 1) is based off of the September 1998 Vanity Fair article by H.G. Bissinger in which he chronicles the rise in popularity during the 1990’s of Stephen Glass‘ journalistic career at The New Republic. It is not until a significant and widespread journalistic fraud is exposed to the world that Glass’s success and moral reliability is questioned and his fabrication of 27 articles is revealed.

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Fig.2: His colleagues are  listening to his fascinating “story.” No one even bothers to doubt whether it is true or not. It’s worth listening and publishing as long as it attracts people to buy into it and further build circulation.

In the opening scene of this movie, Stephen narrates that, “journalism is the art of capturing behavior,” so “it’s the people you find” not political content that “makes a story memorable.” This is how Stephen worked and further, how he sold hundreds of thousands of issues throughout his career of The New Republic, which was established in 1914. In other words, he drew a story in the same process as one would create a piece of art so that it could fascinate readers and increase circulation, the total number of issues of a magazine/publication that are sold (Baran, 2015, p. 108). This made him feel innocent about what he was doing as he insisted “l didn’t do anything wrong” in the movie, meanwhile, he purposely fabricated all or parts of the information in his articles.  People found his stories entertaining (Fig.2), so they were published, bought and read. Stephen knew who his audience was, and everyone admired his young, shining talent.

Stephen Glass’ work ethic as a trustworthy reporter along with his manipulation of facts in order to attract the masses are both clear examples of an attempt to take advantage of readers’ ease in investing in magazines that solely embody topics of interest to them because, “the power of magazines is a personal experience” (Baran, 2015, p.104). Glass knew how to intrigue, sensationalize and exaggerate news in order for it to be read by many people. He embedded yellow journalism, early 20th-century journalism emphasizing sensational sex, crime and disaster news (Baran, 2015, p. 77), into his writing for a significant amount of time resulting in his news stories being unlike “boring policy stories.” People were becoming increasingly platform agnostic, having no preference for where they access media content (Baran, 2015, p. 41), which further led people to  fail to question the sources of their news more and more.

It was not until David Keene, the Chairman of the American Conservative Union, questioned Glass’ depiction of Republicans at a convention, that the social construction of reality was questioned in what the majority was reading from Glass’ news writing. We found this similar to The Truman Show in Truman’s realization that his life is being socially constructed for him by the powerful Christof at the beginning of the movie. Truman is born into an agency in which Christof holds the power to interpret and shape his culture and habits but Truman eventually realized this, broke away and interpreted the world for himself.  In a way, Glass was a ‘news genius,’ which is actually the Japanese title for this movie. He fabricated stories and facts and as a result, he had no sources of information to validate the accusations put against him in the movie. Glass became so powerful in his ability to intrigue the majority in his falsified stories without anyone (like Truman) realizing that the fundamental elements of media literacy, the ability to effectively and efficiently comprehend and use any form of mediated communication (Baran, 2015, p.21), was being falsified right before their eyes. With this said, Steven Glass obtained his powerful position at The New Republic at a very young  age because news media thrives off of excitement, exaggerated detail and intrigue, no matter if it is fully true or not.

Glass was the youngest reporter at The New Republic (1990’s). In fact, the median age of working at the company at that time was 26-year-old, which is just a few years after undergraduate seniors graduate from their universities.  Glass mentioned in the movie, “You are underpaid, your hours are brutal, but what you write gets read by people who matter?” Companies hire youth because they can pay them less and use them more. Those who are young workers do not get paid a lot because they are generally inexperienced and at the bottom of the professional position pyramid in a news industry; however, they are expected to work even harder than elders because they are expected to have more stamina and are members of a generation of the youth that make up the majority of our current readers.

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Fig. 3: United Airline’s ‘Hemispheres’ had very high circulation in 2011. ‘Three Perfect Days’ series is its signature.

Thus, Glass was easily hired to work for The New Republic, an in-flight magazine, which fits the criteria of controlled circulation, meaning that the airline company is providing a magazine at no cost to readers who meet some specific set of advertiser-attractive standards (Baran, 2015, p.108). As a successful example of inflight magazines and controlled circulation, Hemispheres (Fig.3) abroad the United Airline, scored as the best-selling magazine among airline in-flight magazines, according to Cision research in 2011. This magazine covers the latest news in business, travel, fashion, and culture. Its coverage is dominated by entertainment that is related to the readers’ interest, thus these in-flight magazines are custom publishing magazines, publications specifically desgined for an individual company seeking to reach a narrowly defined audience (Baran, 2015, G-3).

Generally speaking, while The New Republic was established as an in-flight magazine by Ernest Hemingway, its ability to intrigue people to read what matters was also an element of its classification as a brand magazine that is “complete with a variety of general interest articles and features” for “readers having demographic characteristics similar to those of customers with whom it typically does business” (Baran, 2015, p.112). Therefore,  inflight magazines and brand magazines alike are entertainment for businessmen and businesswomen. Glass also reported that, “what you write gets read  by people who matter.” For him, the “people who matter” are the businessmen who are interested in in-flight magazines as entertainment. As a young, inexperienced reporter, the ability to publish content for a specific demographic of businessmen and woman abroad flights to start off his career would have triggered his fabrication of events just to make his stories appealing and attractive to many.

Apparently, Stephen Glass put his greatest respect to his audience. Is this wrong to have an allegiance with his audience? If journalists have an allegiance to their publishers, they must sell more magazines in order to maintain their relationship with the publishers. In order to sell more magazines, journalists need to make magazines interesting enough so that people are willing to pay for their magazines.  So, journalists eventually need to be loyal to their readers to continue this bond or else skepticism will arise when concrete evidence can not be found and fabrication is brought to the forefront by publishers. On the other hand, readers expect journalists to provide us with the truth, but would not buy a magazine if it did not interest them. Thus, when journalists put their readers as their priority, they are faced with the dilemma between telling the truth and making money through entertainment and attraction.  The truth is not always entertaining.  Fabrication should not be an option yet, journalists constantly face the hardship of allegiance to the truth and making money and a name for the publication. It be hard to capture an “attractive” truth for every news issue, thus fabrication becomes a prospective option. The New Republic ended up  being honest about their fabricated articles and apologized to their readers; they finally told the truth. The truth… must have been very interesting to readers.

Baran, Stanley J. “Chapter 4.” Introduction to Mass Communication: Media Literacy and Culture. Boston: McGraw Hill, 2015. Print

Censorship in Fahrenheit 451 and The Name of the Rose

By Yoshifumi Kobayashi and Rebecca Doser

Farenheit 451 (1966)
Director: François Truffaut
Stars:
Oskar Werner
Julie Christie
Cyril Cusack

Fahrenheit451B
Fig. 1: Fahrenheit 451 is based off of the 1953 novel by Ray Bradbury and takes place in a society with a futuristic totalitarian government

Farenheit 451 (Fig.1) is a Dystopian science fiction film based on the 1953 novel by Ray Bradbury. This film is set in a significantly controlled society in which a fireman, Guy Montag, who burns all literature, becomes a fugitive for reading. The film was nominated for the Golden Lion at the 1966 Venice Film Festival.

The main point of this movie is to portray a society that is controlled by not only the media, but censorship, the limiting of publication of or access to a book (Baran, 2015, p. 53).  Television and film have shaped perceptions of reality, similar to The Truman Show. Montag burns all the books, which are seen as evil because they are “repositories of ideas, ideas that can be read and considered with limited outside influence or official supervision” (Baran, 2015, p. 55).

Montag says to Clarisse at the beginning that “books disturb people… they make them antisocial.”

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Fig. 2: The women in society are so wrapped up in the ideals relayed through television that the portrayals of beauty and lifestyle all become their perceived reality.

Society in this movie is completely engulfed in television programs and mirroring what they see on the screen such as elements of perceived “beauty” in the way the women dress, do their hair and makeup and act. (Fig. 2). The world is completely idealized in that no one actually talks about important things anymore but rather the majority of society is aliterate, wherein people posse the ability to read but are unwilling to do so, hence a type of self-censorship (Baran, 2015, p.55).

Russian immigrant and writer Joseph Brodsky‘s explanation during his Noble Prize for Literature clearly ties to this movie significantly: “Since there are no laws that can protect us from ourselves, no criminal code is capable of preventing a true crime against literature; though we can condemn the material suppression of literature – the persecution of writers, acts of censorship, the burning of books – we are powerless when it comes to its worst violation: that of not reading the books. For that crime, a person pays with his whole life; if the offender is a nation, it pays with its history” (Baran, 2015, p.55).

This quote is significant when analyzing the scene in which Montag says to his wife and her friends, ““You’re nothing but zombies, all of you… You’re not living, you’re just killing time!” He starts reading to them, which not only scares them but makes one of the women start to cry from them emotional strength of words that flood the pages of books. Millie is livid with him and says, “All those words, idiotic words, evil words that hurt people….isn’t there enough trouble as it is? Why disturb people with that sort of filth?” These women live in such a distorted world of ideals and censorship that they have allowed the government to take full control and demand of their mindsets, values and viewpoints. They depend on screen media to the highest degree, mirror their ideas of beauty and habits by what they see in the media, similar to today in that individuals seek out similar images of popular celebrities and mirror the way they dress, act, and live according to the mediums they favor (magazine, celebrity shows, or films).

Regardless of the fact that all books are burned in the movie, some individuals still remain willing to sacrifice everything they have to ensure that books, which carry out necessary elements of knowledge and morals over filtered screen play, remain alive. Montag becomes one of these individuals to question his social position when he talks to Clarisse about beauty, nature and love, watches a woman die with her books, and witnesses his wife suffer in the depths of television and grow into someone he does not even know anymore. Ultimately, Montag desires more knowledge, education and intellect thus he contacts Professor Faber who helps him on his way to redeeming his personal humanity.


The Name of the Rose(1986)
Director: Jean-Jacques Annaud
Stars:
Sean Connery
F. Murry Abraham
Christian Slater

The-Name-of-the-Rose-1986Umberto Eco
Fig.1: The Name of The Rose is based on the book written by Unberto Eco

The core of The Name of the Rose (Fig. 1) is a simple mystery of a murder case that occurred in ancient Northern Italy. One day, a young monk died mysteriously and the murderer continued after William, who was Franciscan friar and known for his wisdom as well as Adso, his apprentice, who visited the monastery. They are convinced to help them solve the horrible event, and consequently, they figured out a secret book that killed people and is the reason of murder. This movie refers to many historical individuals and events, yet, more importantly to our class, to the role of books before technology, as a forbidden book is the key to solve the murders.

First, since it was the age before the printer appeared, there was still an old-fashioned way of producing books in the monastery. People who worked there were the illuminators, translators, librarians and so forth. They copied the original books to pass down to the next generation in order to contain all the significant information.  All victims were the workers of the library system and therefore had access to read the banned books in this film.

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Fig. 2: He is mad at the monks who are laughing him

Then, why was the book put under strict censorship? You can find the answer in the scene in which William and Adso visit the library in the monastery to see what they do, since the first victim was a famous illuminator.  In this scene, when the blind librarian enters the room as working monks are laughing, he scolds them and says, “A monk should not laugh. Only the fool lifts up his voice in laughter” in Latin (Fig.2). The librarian strongly believes that laughter is a sin and Christ  never laughed. The truth is that the hidden book is funny thus it can trigger laughter to its readers, which the librarian, the culprit, believes is sinful. William, however, argued that, “A laughter is particular to man.” For that, the librarian, hid the book so secretly that no one could commit an act of betrayal to their God.

What was he actually afraid of though and what made him perform in that way? It is probably the belief that people would get revolutionary ideas by reading such books because books have the “influence as cultural repositories and agents of social change” (Baran, 2015, p. 53). Books can give a change within the people, readers, socially and culturally (Baran, 2015, p. 52) especially when they are more intrapersonal resources. They develop the reader’s mind, whether or not it is good, without the help (or influence) of outsiders (Baran, 2015, p. 53). Books simply work readers’ minds and increase knowledge, which is why some people, like William, love reading.

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Fig.3: William is excited by all these books he found in the library

William was so excited when he found out that he was able to get into the library that he was denied access to before:  “I knew it!” he shouted, getting excited that he was in the greatest library in Christendom (Fig.3). His apprentice, Adso, even asked his master if he even cared more about humans than books because the master seemed to be engulfed solely in his readings. This trend indicates how strong the power of books is. This type of power is sometimes considered a threat to a certain group of people, which in turn, causes this level of censorship to ensue in society. In this movie, a banned book, which relatively brought laughter, was also banned among monks due to their religious beliefs. Surely, this book would bring not only laughter but the new idea that could break their tradition sooner or later.The question that one is truly left with at the end, however, it this: Is it worth banning a book for tradition, or is it worth fighting for “the power of ideas” (Baran, 2015, p.55)?

Baran, Stanley J. “Chapter 3.” Introduction to Mass Communication: Media Literacy and Culture. Boston: McGraw Hill, 2015. 47-69. Print.

Hollywood’s Influence on a Negative Stereotype of Arabs and Middle Easterns

Reel Bad Arabs: How Hollywood Vilifies a People (2006)
Director: Sut Jhally
Star: Jack Shaheen

By Yoshifumi Kobayashi and Rebecca Doser

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Fig. 1 This documentary analyzes various Hollywood films and how they specifically vilify Arab and Middle Eastern people

Reel Bad Arabs: How Hollywood Vilifies a People (Fig. 1) is a documentary that is based off of a book written by the movie’s narrator, Jack Shaheen. Both the book and the movie serve to analyze how Hollywood corrupts the image of Arabs in society through discussion of a series of films that create stereotypes of Arabs and Middle Eastern culture. An in-depth analysis of multiple Hollywood films clearly shows how they are portrayed as villains, terrorists and evil individuals.

Shaheen mainly studies hundreds of Hollywood movies, which contain stereotypical images about Arabs that further portray racial prejudice of Arabs, such as True Lies or Father of the Bride 2. Since Hollywood has a history of producing films for lengthy time frames not only in the United States but also worldwide, they do great job as a platform of mass communication, in both appointment consumption and consumption-on-demand sides. He suggests how American (directors) implant the “real” bad Arab images to the audience, who are mainly Americans, through their films. Also, he addresses political influence by introducing the connection between Washington and Hollywood.

The main point of this movie is to not simply just analyze various films vilifying Arabs, but to understand that this type of mass communication, through the means of a documentary, is pointing to a larger problem with Western society. This problem is that various films such as Aladdin and shows such as Family Guy and Modern Family, have the strength and tendency to ingrain skewed images of an entire race or culture. They represent certain people, such as Arabs, not as an individuals of a group of real people but rather as negative images that are portrayed in media to push stereotypes into Americans’ minds.

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Fig. 2: The hijackers aboard flight United 93

The largest issue with the stereotypes placed on a certain group of individuals, is when these stereotypical viewpoints are enacted into real life. Shaheen describes Arabs in Hollywood movies as “subhuman” or as “stock villains.” The problem with this is that these “classifications” are being played out in today’s politics. After watching this movie and discussing it further in class, I (Rebecca) decided to watch United 93 last Thursday evening on September 10, 2015. Afterwards, I will admit myself that the damaging images of Arabs as fearless hijackers (Fig. 2) and terrorists taking the lives of innocent Americans as well as their own lives is extremely terrorizing. Many viewers will allow movies such as this to completely construct their viewpoints on the entire culture of those people, while these evil individuals are only part of this group.

How does this play into real world politics and what is the effect that Hollywood’s depiction of Arabs has on today’s politics? First off, it touches on the basic tenets of the Cultivation Theory, which is the idea that television cultivates or constructs a reality of the world that, although possibly inaccurate, becomes the accepted reality simply because we as a culture believe it to be the reality (Baran, 2015, p. G-3). As Americans, we interpret the world “outside” through the lenses of our own culture- it’s norms, values and symbols.  Hollywood’s portrayal of Arabs as villains and harmful individuals pushes Americans to view an entire culture in this unjust limelight. This negative stereotyping is a result of increased globalization, a term used to describe the concentration of media ownership (Baran, 2015, p. 36) because defenders of this concept point to a need to reach a fragmented and widespread audience to encourage such a trend or viewpoint.

epa03615072  A group of Palestinian men, waving the Palestian flag and holding up posters, protest against the closer of the main south-west entrance to Hebron, as Israeli soldiers look on, West Bank,  08 March 2013. The entrance was closed by Israeli troops due to its proximity to the Jewish settlement Beit Hagay.  EPA/ABED AL HASHLAMOUN
Fig.3: A group of Palestinian men, waving the Palestian flag and holding up posters, protest against the closer of the main south-west entrance to Hebron, as Israeli soldiers look on.

In the middle of the movie, The Reel Bad Arabs, Shaheen puts forth a significant question: “If we cannot see Arab humanity, what’s left?” Afterwards, he continues that, “If we feel nothing, if we feel that Arabs are not like us or not like anyone else, then let’s kill them all. They deserve to die” as a sort of interpretation of his own question.  He takes Arab humanity as if it were a last stronghold. Why? It is probably because Arabs are seriously suffering from hunger, refugee, and  thousands of deaths of innocent people in real life (Fig.3), while they are still portrayed as a bad and dangerous group of people in the movies.  As a means of illustration, if we cannot find humanity in people who are truly in need and struggling with living, where can we find? If they are not like us, who are they? Rather, who are we? They are the real people as well as us. If we ignore the humanity of Arabs, who are nothing but human beings, and destroy everything as though it were justice, there is nothing but ciaos as shown in the movie from The Rush Limbaugh Show. Then, if the ciaos is all that is left, where do we turn next?

In America, the term “axis of evil” first emerged in George W. Bush’s State of the Union Address on January 29, 2002. This term in American culture is often repeated throughout many presidencies to describe the Middle Eastern/Arab governments that are accused of terrorism, seeking weapons of mass destruction, and impacting our relations with Iran and Iraq due to their stance as common enemies during the War on Terror. This clearly links current political viewpoints on Arabs with Shaheen’s statement that, “Politics and Hollywood’s images are linked; they reinforce one another. Policy enforces mythical images, mythical images help enforce policy.” The fear we hold against Arabs in watching films such as United 93 construct a reality of the world that all Arabs should be seen through a lens of evil and indoctrination. The strength of the ability of politics and Hollywood to work simultaneous to cultivate this social construction of reality is evident in that America’s leaders continue to use the term “the axis of evil” and show children videos such as Aladdin, which vilify Arabs in every way possible to a young generation who will ultimately guide Americans views in years to come.

The stereotypes of Arabs and Middle Easterners have been shaped and altered by the medium that mainly portrays bad Arab images to the public: Hollywood movies. In contrast, however, here are some examples of movies that contain neutral or positive portrayals of Arabs: A Perfect Murder (1998), Three Kings (1999), Kingdom of Heaven (2005), Syriana (2005), and Hideous Kinky (1998). These movies describe a romance involving an Arab man or employee decent Arab characters in their plots, though some of these neutral/positive films regarding Arab characters still involve fights, weapons, and some suspicious atmospheres. Thus, Shaheen is hopeful that the situation can change and that the negative stereotype of Arabs will be turned around because of some new-aged movie directors.

 

Baran, Stanley J. “Chapter 1.” Introduction to Mass Communication: Media Literacy and Culture. Boston: McGraw Hill, 2015. 4-27. Print.

Good Morning! Oh, and in Case I Don’t See You…

The Truman Show (1998)
Director: Peter Weir
Stars: Jim Carrey, Ed Harris, Laura Linney

By Yoshifumi Kobayashi and Rebecca Doser

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Fig. 1: The Truman Show was a financial success and has been analyzed significantly in regards to Christianity, reality and existentialism.

The Truman Show (Fig. 1)  is a 1998 American drama written by Andrew Niccol and directed by Peter Weir. The plot follows the life of a man named Truman who was unaware that his life has been completely constructed by a producer named Christof in a reality television show for the past 30 years. When skepticism arises, Truman grows suspicious of what he  perceived as “reality” for his entire life and he seeks out his own internal strength to ultimately escape the “media bubble” he lives in.

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Fig. 2: Truman’s “media bubble” involves him decoding his neighbors “Good morning” greeting as a habitual and genuine daily routine when little does he know, it is all staged and scripted by the producers of his show

Marshall McLuhan, a Canadian philosopher of communication theory once said, “Does a fish know it’s wet?” upon which he answered, “No” (Baran, 2015, p. 4). This concept is one of the most important elements involved in understanding how individuals, such as Truman, are completely submerged in a “media bubble” and further, how social constructivism shapes values, norms and habits. In The Truman Show, Truman’s daily routine is shaped by the people he sees every morning, the radio show he listens to every day, the completely fixated environment/movie set in which he lives and the hyper-commercialism of which he seems to be unconscious of for his entire life. Media informs us, entertains us, delights us and annoys us (Baran, 2015, p. 4) and the way in which one decodes a message can vary significantly based on how one interprets signs and symbols (Baran, 2015, p. 6). In the movie, Truman interprets his marriage, work environment, social interactions and even his habitual friendly neighborhood greetings (Fig. 2) as normal elements of his daily routine simply because he has never experienced anything out of what he considers “the ordinary.” He has become sucked into the “bubble” created by Christof and it is not until the end of the movie that he physically is able to touch the confinements of his “media bubble” in order to find the courage to leave.

Many characters hold differing views on reality in a general sense throughout the movie. In the dialogue between Christof and Lauren, Christof asks her, “Do you really think you’re in the position to judge him?” However, at the same time, this question could be brought back to Christof himself since he is the one who decides what is right in the world he created for Truman. Lauren claims that Christof is manipulating Truman’ life therefore that world is absolutely fake, whereas Christof throws the question to her, and all the viewers, to perhaps question the reality of their world as well. This conversation brings us to think of our own lives in regards to who really formulates the “media bubbles” that build our habits and norms.

According to the Baran, media literacy is defined as “the ability to effectively and efficiently comprehend and use any form of mediated communication” (Baran, 2015, p. 18). In other words, the author explains that mass communication is a learnable skill and can be practiced. How can this idea of media literacy explain Christof’s claim, “We accept the reality of the world with which we’re presented”?

image credit: https://chrisicisms.files.wordpress.com/2014/08/truman-ad.jpg
Fig.3: We are surrounded and manipulated by media and hyper commercialism.

We accept the reality constructed by media because we have learned that the mass communication, which exists everywhere (Fig. 3), manipulates us everyday, especially in our generation. Television, radio, newspapers and social media exert mass communication that shapes how we have learned to live in this world without a doubt just like Truman does in The Truman Show. Therefore, it is not as easy and simple as one may think to escape the “media bubble” that effects everyone in the same way it effects Truman.

 Another important concept that is evident in both the reading and the movie is the idea of data mining and a surveillance society. In class, we analyzed how everything from your online financial recordings to what size shoe you are to even what events you attended last week, which are all recorded in some form/database. In the movie, Christof says, “We accept the reality of the world with which we’re presented, it’s as simple as that.” This statement ties into the idea of a dominant or mainstream culture in that one seems to hold sway with the majority of the people (Baran, 2015, p. 11). Culture’s idealized standards of beauty, appeal and liberation are evident in our Facebook posts, Snapchat stories and online presence because our generation has grown up following suit of the mainstream culture of our time. We are oblivious to this element of our everyday ritual, similar to Truman in his inability to comprehend the extent to which his life has been created for him until he is able to escape the lure of Christof in the final scene.

Towards the end of the movie Christof says, “There is no more truth out there than in the world I created for you.” Truman’s life has been cultivated by the media since birth and while this may be simply entertainment to some such as the two older woman and the bathtub man in the movie, it is decoded as an inappropriate and unethical act of manipulation by others such as Lauren/Sylvia. These varying viewpoints stem from multiple points of access, which is an approach to media content from a variety of directions and derives from it many levels of meaning (Baran, 2015, p. 22). Thus, as Baran describes, most of society tuning in to The Truman Show is doing so in order to fulfill self-enjoyment and/or appreciation because they too, are engulfed in this “media bubble” of which we all get sucked into.

In the final scene, these multiple points of access are further analyzed when the viewers react differently to Truman’s escape of his “media bubble” or “world.” Intertextuality is the most important concept to understand in order to interpret this last scene from a media lens. Truman walking on water in the final scene is a parallel to the Bible of Jesus walking on water. In the story “Jesus Walks on the Water” in the New Testament, Jesus tells Peter that he has the courage to come towards him and not to doubt his ability. “Take Courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid,” he says (Aitken, 1968, p. 27).  In this scene, Weir is intentionally visually interweaving both the story from the Matthew and it’s moral content in order to underscore the message that both of them share. This message is that extreme internal strength is necessary to escape a lure, or in Truman’s case, his “scripted paradise” or “media bubble.” Truman confronts his fear of water and even yells out that he is challenging Christof even further with his comment, “That’s all you got?” He displays that he must physically touch the confinements of his “media bubble” in order to build up the courage to leave. This understanding of both stories is necessary to understand the final scene in all its comparable elements to the Bible. For example, Truman’s fixation on the boat when he is knocked out and “resurrected” is similar to the formation of Jesus’ body on the cross (paralleling crucifixion) and Christof’s voice coming from the clouds mirrors the voice of God.

In the end,  the social construction of reality could be cultivated by all the media in recent years, and we accept that reality. Christof might have been right about this matter. We accept the reality that is presented in front of us because that is the only reality we know and learn as we grow up.

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Fig.4: In the last scene, Truman must face the confinements of his “media bubble.”

However, since we are trying to become more aware of the ironic and difficult reality of our world that has been shaped and created by media (Fig. 4), how can we identify “true” reality if there even is such a thing?  If the world we live in is somehow manipulated by artificial elements of media then will that always skew our perception of reality? Indeed, it is very hard or almost impossible to classify the definition of true reality when what we believe is true is controlled by mainstream communication and the social construction of our everyday thoughts.  Yes, we do accept the reality that we see in television shows such as Sesame Street because those are sources of knowledge and habits that we have learned from a young age. Similar to the fact that Truman had accepted his ‘fake’ reality that was produced into a show his entire life, we fail to notice the obscurity in what we hear, see and view day after day. Even after we start to recognize and analyze the “media bubble” in which we live, does this realization allow us to build up the courage, like Truman, to actually escape the confinements of this media lure?

 Bibliography

Aitken, Robert. The Holy Bible. New York: Arno, 1968. Print.

Baran, Stanley J. “Chapter 1.” Introduction to Mass Communication: Media Literacy and Culture. Boston: McGraw Hill, 2015. 4-27. Print.